As human beings, we are biologically programmed to be in a relationship, but we are also programmed for self-protection. In many relationships, a tug-of-war exists between these two programs with self-protection often winning out.
Because we know that not all relationships are beneficial for us, we approach any relationship with one question in mind. This is a question that we are not consciously aware of but one that determines what happens in the relationship.
To evaluate a relationship, we have a question which constantly plays through our head, and that question is “are you there for me?”, or we can modify to “do you have my back?” or “can I trust you?”. If we internally answer that question with a “yes”, then we feel that the relationship is safe, beneficial and worth pursuing. However, if we internally answer that question with a “no”, then a chain of events is put into motion which will ultimately cause issues within the relationship. A “no” answer will cause an emotional response, and that response comes from a part of our brain which stores memories, associated emotions and what we have learnt from them. Recall of memories and associated emotions is extremely quick. We react emotionally to the situation. This emotional reaction is not an overwhelmingly positive one. Depending on one’s life experiences the reaction can be quite severe. For example, if you have been in relationships where you felt you were always betrayed, put down and used, then anything that makes you feel that you are in a similar relationship will elicit a severe negative emotional reaction.
Once the emotional part of the brain is well and truly fired up the thinking part, or rational part of our brain starts to shut down, and we become ruled by the emotional part of our brain. This part of our brain is not thinking things through logically but is reacting based on past experience. If the reaction is severe enough that will trigger our fight-flight syndrome and we will return the perceived attack or remove ourselves from the situation.
In a relationship, we can be easily triggered by innocent statements made by our partners that due to our life experience elicit an emotional response, and we feel that we are being victimised or attacked. An emotional response triggering a fight-flight system may indeed elicit a response from us which will start to build into a heated confrontation. I’m sure many of you if not all of you have experienced this at some point in your relationship. There is nothing logical about arguments. Arguments do not solve anything. They are emotionally driven, and the main point of an argument is to defeat your opponent which in this case is your partner. In an argument, both of you start to allow the emotional part of your brain to run everything. You are only getting hurt. Even if you win, you still feel hurt.
A method that I teach my clients to deal with these situations is simple but takes a bit of practice. If our partners inadvertently say something which fires us up, then we need to ask a question which is “what do I think is happening here?”. The mere asking of this question requires you to re-engage the thinking part of your brain and helps to balance the emotional and thinking processes. If you are not capable of asking yourself that question, then your partner needs to ask you “what do you think is going on?” Once again, you’re forced back into using the thinking part of your brain.
It is important for us to be able to prevent the emotional part of our brain from ruling. Emotions are extremely important in the overall picture of things but if allowed to dictate your actions, you will end up with a way less than optimal result. Many people react to these situations as they deteriorate, in the belief that their partner is deliberately trying to make their lives hell and deliberately trying to hurt them. This is a belief which is based on past experiences.
Unless you take deliberate action to step in and interrupt the process, then you’ll keep getting the same old crappy result. Remember we are always asking the question “are you there for me?” If your belief system is based on a life experience that people let you down, then you will answer that question with a “no” triggering the whole emotional reaction and fight-flight. We can call that process default action which is the action you take without thinking. Only deliberate action (questioning what is really happening) changes the process that is happening in the present moment and with this change you can look forward to getting a different result.
Need some help with this process? Please contact me on 07 34581725.
(c) Tracey Janke – StartPoint Counselling 2017